We’re studying the book of Revelation in Bible study this year and the topic of ‘urgency’ keeps coming up.
It’s this idea that Christians should have a sense of urgency to spread the gospel before it’s too late. It reminds me of the Baptist churches I grew up in.
The Urgency of the Gospel
When I became a Christian at age nine, it was because I loved Jesus, sure. But even more it was because I was terrified of going to hell. I’d heard plenty of sermons and Sunday school lessons on what hell was like and I did NOT want to go there.
I endured many an invitational ‘Just As I Am’ altar call during which the preacher would ask for “every head bowed, every eye closed” and challenge the congregation to come forward to receive Jesus and escape the fiery torment that was awaiting them if they didn’t.
What young child wouldn’t be scared out of their wits? Just for good measure, I prayed the ‘sinner’s prayer’ every Sunday, just in case the first one ‘didn’t take.’
The sense of urgency was drilled into us from a young age as we were challenged to speak boldly and share the gospel with friends, neighbors, and even strangers. After all, we wouldn’t want people to end up in hell simply because we were too timid to share Jesus with them, would we?
If You Died Tonight
As a high school and college student, I was taught the steps to salvation, learning the tried and true methods of leading a sinner to Christ.
Those ‘witnessing programs’ always led to the ultimate question we were to ask: “If you were to die tonight, do you know where you’d go?” That question was supposed to be the challenge, the climax of the conversation, terrifying enough in its implications that sinners would repent on the spot, ask Jesus into their hearts, and commit to be baptized.
As an insecure introvert, this whole type of evangelism scared me almost as much as the threat of hell. I always lurked toward the back, hanging out on the fringes, and avoided the direct confrontation that ‘sharing the gospel’ was supposed to entail.
By the time I was 30, I felt ashamed and broken because I had never ‘led someone to Christ’ despite the hundreds of sermons I’d heard reminding me that Jesus wouldn’t call me a ‘good and faithful servant’ if I didn’t personally witness to others on a regular basis.
I would sit through Sunday school lessons about evangelism and practice my smug assured look, so everyone would assume I — like they — had led multiple people to Christ in my lifetime, guiding them successfully through ‘the sinner’s prayer’ in order to receive Christ as Lord and Savior.
I believed I was a disappointment to God, a blight on the face of believers, a failure as a Christian because of my lack of in-your-face boldness.
Surely if I took to heart the urgency of the gospel message, then I would have been more forthright and aggressive in sharing of the danger of hell, right?
Is It Good News?
It took me years to undo this kind of toxic thinking. I’m now at a completely different place in my life, where I am mature enough — both chronologically and spiritually — to examine such approaches to evangelism and to identify the fallacies inherent in them.
It’s no secret. This world we live in can be an ugly and increasingly hostile place. Evil abounds. It scares us, and rightfully so. We want safety and peace and solutions. We’re willing to listen to practically any leader charismatic and gutsy enough to offer up ideas for how to fix what ails us — no matter how insane those ideas may be.
So, yes, for the Christian, there is a sense of urgency.
But not in the way I was always taught.
You see, there are plenty of Christians proclaiming the ‘good news’ all over the place. They’re on street corners, on TV, outside abortion clinics, marching on Washington, and offering up their lengthly opinions all over social media.
They are bold, all right. They’ll tell you all about sin and hell, and point their fingers at you till the cows come home, warning you to repent. To the majority of the world’s population, including many fellow Christians, these ‘gospel sharers’ are annoying at best, fear and hate-mongerers at their worst.
They say and do horrendous things all in the name of ‘standing up for Jesus.’ And they are praised by many in the evangelical world for doing so.
They place their hopes in politicians. They speak loudly about the ills of government, about the need for laws to be overturned, for godly justice to rule the land, for the standards of morality and its governance to change.
But in all the clamor, they forget the need to be urgent in the one way it matters. In the actual message of the gospel. The good news.
There is and should be a sense of urgency for the Christian.
- We should feel it every time we see a person hurting, any time we encounter a fellow human being who can’t break out of the shame/depression cycle.
- We should feel it when we see others being treated as less than because of the color of their skin, or the language they speak, or their religious beliefs, their abilities or disabilities, their gender.
- We should feel a sense of urgency when we see the poor, desperately trying to make ends meet.
- But we should also feel it when we gaze into the hollow, hungry eyes of the wealthy who keep trying to fill a spiritual void with material wealth.
- We should feel a sense of urgency when we watch people rip one another to shreds on Facebook.
- Whenever we turn on the TV and see the inanity that passes for entertainment.
- Whenever we encounter adolescents who’ve already given up on life, or senior adults who still live in the shame and fear of their former teenage years.
There’s an urgency to share the Gospel of Jesus.
Because the world is hurting. It’s had enough hell for right now. And it sure could use some good news.
He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written:
‘The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.’
Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him. 21 He began by saying to them, ‘Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.'” Luke 4:16-21
That’s the good news. And it’s where we’re falling short.
Christians, where is our sense of urgency?
We must be urgent to love.
There is no time to waste on hatred or fear or ugly tirades. There are people who need to be loved, people who desperately ache for the love of a savior, people who are craving the good news that someone might actually care and that life might actually be worth living.
- We must be urgent to treat our neighbors as ourselves.
We must urgently extend hands of grace and mercy, offer up the benefit of the doubt, be willing to say we’re sorry, and equally willing to forgive.
We must be urgent to live as Jesus lived.
To live not as one enslaved to fear and sin, but as one filled to overflowing with love and abundance and peace. And to show the world a better way.
We must be urgent to speak life.
To let people know that Jesus did not come into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through him might be saved. That he came to offer life to the full, living water that satisfies every spiritual thirst.
We must be urgent to preach freedom for the captives.
To teach a more excellent way. To refuse to threaten people with the specter of a fiery torment, and instead entice them with the boundless love of God.
Christians, where is our sense of urgency?
If we truly want to spread the Gospel message, we need to focus our urgency on the things that matter. We need to offer world what it so desperately needs.
Madeleine L’Engle wrote the following words, and they sum it up beautifully:
We draw people to Christ not by loudly discrediting what they believe, by telling them how wrong they are and how right we are, but by showing them a light that is so lovely that they want with all their hearts to know the source of it.”
Christians, I urge you to see.
- See a lonely, aching world, yearning for freedom.
- See them searching for hope where there is none.
- See the downtrodden and the unloved, see them, won’t you?
And then with all the urgency you can muster, hold forth your lovely little light.